CRS § 22-33-104 is the Colorado statute that defines school truancy and requires children to attend school. Juvenile courts can order a child to attend school, or can order parents to get their children to school. Breaking these court orders can lead to sanctions and criminal charges for contempt of court.
Students and parents facing truancy charges have some legal defenses that they can use. These legal defenses can argue that there was no truancy. They can also argue that the truancy was not as bad as the school claims it is. Some of the most common include:
- The school day absences were excused,
- The school did not stick to the correct procedure, and
- The student does not have to be at school.
The penalty for violating CRS 22-33-104 is being held in contempt of court.
Juvenile court judges have wide discretion over how to handle school truancy cases. In most cases, the judge will issue a court order for the student to return to school. An order can also be filed against the student’s parents, telling them to get their child to school.
If the nonattendance problem is not fixed according to the court order, the court can hold the student and parent in contempt. If the problem is still not resolved, the court can put the student or their parents in jail for a short period of time.
A Colorado criminal defense attorney can help if you or your child has been accused of school truancy. In this article, a lawyer explains:
- 1. What is school truancy in Colorado?
- 2. What are the legal defenses?
- 3. What are the penalties for violating CRS 22-33-104?
- 4. Related offenses
1. What is school truancy in Colorado?
In Colorado, CRS 22-33-104 is the statute that defines school truancy. According to Colorado school attendance law, children age six (6) to under seventeen (17) must attend school for at least:
- 450 hours a year, if they are in half-day kindergarten,
- 900 hours a year, if they are in full-day kindergarten,
- 968 hours a year, if they are not in kindergarten, but still in elementary school, and
- 1,056 hours a year, if they are in secondary school (middle school and high school).
Colorado law also requires the child’s parents or legal custodians to ensure their child meets these goals.1
1.1 What is habitual truancy?
A “child who is habitually truant” means a child age six (6) to sixteen (16) years old with either:
- four (4) unexcused absences from public school in any one month; or
- ten (10) unexcused absences from public school during any academic year (school year)2
Each school district’s local board of education is required to make all reasonable efforts to assist habitually truant children, including
- meeting with the children and their guardians and
- developing plans with local community services groups.
The goal is to keep up school enrollment and prevent the child from becoming a dropout.3
1.2 How is truancy prosecuted in Colorado?
If a child becomes habitually truant, the school can begin a truancy case. These cases follow the process laid out in CRS 22-33-108.
A truancy case can be started by:
- The school’s attorney,
- The school’s Attendance Officer, or
- The county Board of Education.
A truancy case begins with a notice from the school to the truant student and the parent/guardian. This notice warns the student and parents they will have to come to court if the student’s attendance problem is not corrected.
In many cases, a court summons is attached to the notice. The court summons sets a court date. The court date has to be at least five (5) days away. If the student’s attendance problem is fixed by then, the court date is removed. Otherwise, the student and their parents have to appear in the juvenile court.
The child in a school truancy court case has a right to a lawyer during these judicial proceedings.
If the juvenile court judge decides CRS 22-33-104 has been violated, they can issue a court order against the student and parents. This court order requires that steps be taken to make sure the child goes to school.
If the juvenile court learns that the court order is not being followed, it can start a contempt of court case.4
2. What are the legal defenses?
Children and parents who have been notified that a truancy case is about to begin against them have legal defenses that they can raise. Common defense arguments against a claim that you violated CRS 22-33-104 include:
- The school absences were excused,
- The school is breaking its own rules in pursuing a truancy charge, and
- The student does not actually have to go to school.
The job of proving these legal defenses falls on the student and their parents.
2.1 The absences were excused
There are plenty of excusable and justifiable reasons for a child to not be in school for a number of days. Under CRS 22-33-104(2), an excused absence can be when the child is:
- Hurt or sick and their absence has been approved by the school,
- Suffering from a physical, mental, or emotional disability,
- Suspended from school,
- In jail,
- In a work-study program, or is
- Being taught at home.
The attendance requirements for a local school may set out other excusable absences, as well.
2.2 The school is not following its own rules on truancy
In some cases, the school pursues a truancy case in a way that violates its own attendance policy or the rules set out in CRS 22-33-108.
These rules are made to ensure students can have their say and defend against a truancy charge. If a school breaks those rules, it can violate your rights.
2.3 The student no longer has to go to school
If a student has already graduated – even if they graduate ahead of schedule – they no longer have to go to school. Proving that they have graduated can be an effective defense against a truancy charge.
3. What are the penalties for violating CRS 22-33-104?
Unlike many criminal convictions, the penalties for violating Colorado school attendance laws are not set in stone. Instead, the juvenile court judge has a lot of discretion in setting the appropriate penalties.
If the judge in the local judicial district is not satisfied with the defenses raised by the student or their parents, the judge will issue a court order. The details of this court order depend on the case. They will be tailored to the student’s attendance problems and the parent’s ability to get their child to school.
There are only penalties for school truancy if this court order is ignored or broken. If it is, the court will initiate contempt of court proceedings.
The maximum penalty a student has to pay for contempt of court in truancy cases is 48 hours in Juvi Hall. Juvenile court judges, however, only use this penalty when there are no other options. In most cases, an alternative solution is reached that helps the student get to school. For example, school attendance officers can pick up tardy students and bring them to school.5
4. Related offenses
There are several related offenses to school truancy under Colorado state law. Most of them get filed after the truancy hearing and investigation uncovers evidence of a crime.
- Child abuse (CRS 18-6-401). This law makes it a crime to hurt a child for no reason. It can follow from a truancy case if the school finds evidence that the child is being neglected or abused at home.
- Contributing to the delinquency of a minor (CRS 18-6-701). This statute makes it illegal to urge someone under 18 to break the law. Truancy investigations can uncover evidence that one or both parents are holding a child from school to help commit crimes.
- Sexual assault on a child (CRS 18-3-405). This law prohibits initiating sexual contact with someone under 15. Sexual abuse at home can make children behave erratically. This can lead to truancy investigations that uncover evidence of sexual abuse.
We have law offices in Denver, Greeley, Colorado Springs, and we appear in courts throughout Colorado.
See our related article on Denver Juvenile Court – A Guide for Parents.
For a discussion of the laws in California, please see our page on school truancy laws in California.
- Colorado Revised Statutes 22-33-104; see Compulsory School Attendance Law, Colorado Department of Education.
- CRS 22-33-102; see also Truancy Rates in Colorado, Colorado Department of Education.
- CRS 22-33-107 et seq.
- CRS 22-33-108; see also Destefano v. Nichols, (2004) 84 P.3d 496; see also Martinez v. Sch. District No. 60, (Colo. App. 1992) 852 P.2d 1275.
- CRS 22-33-104; CRS 22-33-108. In Interest of J.E.S. (1991) 817 P.2d 508. See also Gutierrez v. School Dist. (. , 1978) 41 Colo. App. 411